37-0 (18-0 Big 12)
27-8 (12-4 SEC)
This is kind of fun, isn't it? Undefeated Baylor, who have torn through the season with various degrees of abandon (their closest wins were both 5-point affairs, one against Connecticut, the other against Texas Tech(!)), who have the best player in the nation (Brittney Griner, maybe you're heard of her hey you guys did you know Brittney Griner is 6'8" Brittney Griner and she dunked last game maybe you saw the video Brittney Griner times no seriously this is going to be the entire Brittney Griner broadcast Brittney Griner), who have a coach who ...um, calls out opponents for playing their starters when they're down 15, are going up against little ol' Tennessee. You know, the team that lost home games to South Carolina and Arkansas, who's only rounded into form in the last three weeks (and, as we saw a couple days ago, that may not happen all the time), whose best player is subject to change depending on the night.
Why even bother playing this game, right? It's over. Anoint Baylor champions of all time (they can fight it out with that UConn squad from a couple years ago, who was better than those UCLA squads from the '70s). And yet, it's not over. This Lady Vol team has a shot to make it to the first Final Four these seniors have seen. In their way is a 37-0 team who already won in Knoxville this year.
To be the man, you gotta beat the man.
This is when I tell you I'm not concerned about Brittney Griner. It sounds weird, but she's going to have height on pretty much anyone, so - well, not to put too fine a point on it, but the best you can do is try and deny entry passes and hope they call a couple over-the-backs against her early. I've given up on ways to stop her, quite frankly; the hope is that she doesn't go off for 40+.
My concern is with Odyessy Sims. She's a dynamic driving guard, the kind Tennessee has had trouble against all season. She's better than Angel Goodrich (who had a 9-20, 23-point, 6 assist, 5 TO performance on Saturday), she's better than C'ierra Ricketts (who had a 6-11, 16-point, 8-board, 9 assist, 3 TO performance in Knoxville), and she's better than Ariel Massengale. It's a tough defensive assignment, and more importantly, it's a defensive assignment that Tennessee could win. My fear is that Massengale spends most of the game one-on-one against Sims (which basically spells a comfortable Baylor win), but there are other, better options. Shekinna Stricklen can be a lockdown defender. Meighan Simmons has stepped up her defensive game. Kamiko Williams might be the Lady Vols' best defensive guard.
One thing to note is that Baylor does not shoot many threes. Yeah, sure, Brittney Griner helps with that, but Sims is a driving guard primarily. Sims and Hayden are their best perimeter threats, but neither is truly dead-eye (38.7% and 37.7%, respectively). Zone may not be the worst idea, provided there's an answer for when Sims drives and uses Griner as an inside-out match.
Offensively, it comes down to three players: Stricklen, Glory Johnson, and Simmons. Simmons has been incredibly effective coming off the bench the last few weeks, and has taken her game to another level once the tournament tipped off. She offers an option Tennessee hasn't had for most of the season. Glory is, well, Glory. We know her game, and hopefully she can use her speed and raw athleticism to her advantage. That leaves Stricklen, who's not coincidentally the one player Baylor doesn't have an answer for. If Tennessee wins, it's thanks to her.
If Tennessee comes to play, this is a game. It'll require 40 minutes of effort, 40 minutes of lockdown defense, 40 minutes of efficient offense, 40 minutes of smart decisions, 40 minutes of the Lady Vols reminding us of the Lady Vols teams of yore. 40 minutes, nothing less. Win, and a date with history awaits in Denver. Lose, and this senior class will graduate without tasting a Final Four.
40 minutes. That's all that matters right now.
Go Lady Vols.